Another bill has been introduced to support local and small meat processors as they adapt to demands and capacity restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-MN-1) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration, have introduced the Strengthening Local Processing Act to provide funds for small-scale meat and poultry processors to grow and expand.
“There is a broadening concern over corporate concentration in the meatpacking industry,” Fortenberry said. “In a previous time, we had more local meat processing. This bill helps stimulate a return to that previous model, creating a robust market in local economies, linking the farm to the family.”
Under federal law, ranchers wanting to sell individuals cuts of locally-raised meat must send their animals to a limited number of USDA- or state-inspected processing facilities. As a result, many smaller processors are booked out for months, and producers are unable to meet new demand due to a lack of processing capacity. The pandemic and backlog of cattle have further exacerbated the demand for processing capacity.
The legislation would increase the amount of cost share USDA pays for a state Meat and Poultry Inspection Program from 50 to 65 percent of total program costs. In addition, the bill would increase the federal share of costs for cooperative interstate shipment (CIS) facilities from 60 to 80 percent, encouraging more states to operate state inspection programs and participate in CIS. There are currently 27 states that operate a state inspection program and only eight states that participate in CIS.
The bill would create a new grant program to provide support for plants to expand infrastructure to increase harvest and processing capacity, and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and future market needs. Grants would not exceed $100,000 for 90 percent of eligible costs and up to $500,000 for 75 percent eligible costs. A total of $10 million a year in mandatory funding and $15 million in discretionary funding would be provided.
The legislation would also offer Meat Processing Training Program grants, providing $10 million in discretionary funding for small plants to train plant operators, employees, and the next generation of processors and butchers.
The bill has been endorsed by the following ag organizations: the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; the American Association of Meat Processors; the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network; the National Farmers Union; American Grassfed Association; United States Cattlemen’s Association; the National Bison Association; the Center for Rural Affairs; and the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association.
“The Local Strengthening Processing Act includes the technical assistance and cost-share programs needed to increase independent meat processing capacity,” said Patrick Robinette, independent processing committee chairman of the United States Cattlemen’s Association. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor